The Teachings of Padmasambhava by Guenther

Guenther, Herbert V. The Teachings of Padmasambhava. Leiden, Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1996. Hardcover, 231 pp.

Although Padmasambhava (eighth century A.D.) is revered as a second buddha, almost nothing reliable is known about him. His Tantric works also have been rarely mentioned by the Tibetans themselves, probably because they were deemed too subversive. The late Prof. Guenther, who had made a lifelong study of Padmasambhava and his Nyingma lineage, begins his monograph by reviewing the scant information about the “precious teacher” (guru rimpoche) that is available, and then proceeds to delineate Padmasambhava’s original, holistic, and visionary philosophy of liberation. As the author notes, “Padmasambhava has revealed himself as an ‘exception’ personage whose vision and evolutionary thinking were far ahead of his time and have remained unparalleled through the history of Buddhist thought” (p. 38).

Utilizing a phenomenological-hermeneutical approach, as was his custom, Guenther page after page seeks to unravel Padmasambhava’s Gnostic thought for the comprehension of Western readers, who are steeped in Aristotelian categories. As always, Guenther is not easy to follow, and sometimes his terminology gets in the way of comprehension. His insights about the teachings of the second buddha, however, are truly seminal.

After a detailed examination of Padmasambhava’s cosmology, as a tripartite system springing from mystical experiences, Guenther goes on to discuss—in a 54-page chapter—the adept’s Gnostic involutionary schema: the path home to Wholeness. This process consists in a deconstruction of the empirical, finite mind, whereupon the Whole lights up. In Padmasambhava’s mystical language (and in Guenther’s rendering):

Through the dissipation (dissolution) of representational thinking’s constructs, )the experiencer) immerses himself in immortality’s elixir (that is the whole’s) giving birth to thoughts/meanings;

When the phenomenal disspates (dissolves) into its legitimate dwelling, (the experiencer) immerses himself in immortality’s elixir (that is the whole’s) dimensionality of meaning; and

When (the experiencer’s) ontic foundation dissipates (dissolves) into its legitimate dwelling, (the experiencer) immerses himself in (the whole’s) energy.

Padmasambhava’s writings are riddled with Gnostic metaphors, which demonstrates that he was undoubtedly influenced by Sethian and Valentinian Gnosticism, though equally unquestionably his philosophical edifice was very much his own original creation.

In the concluding 75-page chapter, which is the most obscure, Guenther inquires into the symbolism of Padmasambhava’s “luminous language of being.” Central to this language is the concept of the “Little Man of Light” (khye’u-chung), the Anthropos, who is commissioned by his divine parents to retrieve the precious jewel of “real being,” which then allows him to find his way back to his real home, the Whole. The consideration revolves around the originary Light (mkha’) and the dharma-kaya (chos-sku), as well as the ecstatic leap into Wholeness, in the context of Padmasambhava’s sweeping anthropocosmology.

In his epilogue, Guenther brilliantly summarizes his findings. “As a visionary thinker of the highest order,” writes the author, “he is one who knows and speaks from experience and, for this reason alone, he is a striking example of individuality” (p. 205). “In conclusion we may say that Padmasambhava’s importance lies in the fact that he is first and foremost a process-oriented thinker, maybe even the first in recorded history.”

Copyright ©2006 by Georg Feuerstein. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in any form requires prior permission from Traditional Yoga Studies.

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